Seeing prospects in person is my passion. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit parks in five different leagues — collecting information and video on 200 legitimate prospects or more. The lists released over the next few weeks will highlight the best prospects I’ve seen in person at each position during the 2012 season. The rankings will be adjusted based on projected position at the major league level, not present position (in italics if ranking includes position shift). After writing the first three lists, I realized there’s really no way to keep statistical information out of the equation completely and focus on scouting/projection alone. This has caused me to hedge my bets a bit on high ceiling talents and focus more on the complete player. Additionally, understand this is not meant to be a complete list of the best prospects at each position across all of Minor League Baseball, but the best of what I’ve seen.
1. Tyler Austin, New York Yankees
Of position prospects in the Yankees organization, no player has a higher floor than Tyler Austin. He profiles as a solid average regular with room for a bit more. On a list which lacks impact talent, he’s the safest bet to hit for both enough average and power to profile as an everyday player. Having seen the likes of Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton and Jason Heyward at the minor league level, no player on this list projects for that kind of impact potential.
2. Rymer Liriano, San Diego Padres
My look at Liriano was extremely brief, but one has no choice but to be impressed by his compact, powerful frame and explosive hands. His need for extended periods of adjustment after earning promotions concerns me a bit, as does his swing mechanics. However, the payoff if things break right is enough for him to rank second on this list.
3. Michael Choice, Oakland Athletics
In March, I found myself in Phoenix watching Michael Choice taking reps in right field thinking, “That’s going to hurt his value.” Little did I know a power outage in the Double-A Texas League would drop him even further. Before succumbing to a season ending injury, Choice was in the midst of a .435/.493/.710 July, so I’m cutting him a little slack for another season.
4. Jonathan Galvez, San Diego Padres
The obligatory, “At least one tool shed needs to be highly ranked” pick, Jonathan Galvez has a lean, athletic frame that makes scouts swoon. He made a great first impression when I saw him in Arizona and had a fine, albeit injury shortened season in Double-A. If this list were based on tools alone, he’d be in the top-3.
5. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers (CF)
Pederson is a center fielder on paper, but poor route running and bad reads off of batted balls in Double-A forces me to slide him down the defensive spectrum. In person, Pederson presents as less physical than I was expecting based on his 18 home run, 26 stolen base campaign in the California League. However, I came away very impressed with his bat control and ability to command the strike zone at such a young age.
6. Keury De La Cruz, Boston Red Sox
De La Cruz has holes in his offensive game which very well might catch up to him at the upper levels, but there may not be a better pure hitter on this list. One scout called it a, “65 hit tool” which is very high praise. De La Cruz’ defense lags far behind his bat. For me, he’d rank higher if I could envision a scenario where De La Cruz could man center field in a pinch. Unfortunately, it’s a below average glove in left at this point, so center is just not a viable option.
7. Todd Cunningham, Atlanta Braves (CF)
The anti-Jonathan Galvez, Cunningham is short on tools, but has a big league floor due to advanced baseball skills. He’s certainly a “tweener” for me, but he did spend the 2012 season manning center field which is definitely a positive considering I saw a player without a position when Cunningham debuted in 2010. At present, Cunningham’s ability to switch hit, make consistent contact and play all three outfield spots leaves him with an ideal fourth outfielder profile.
8. Alfredo Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
I’ll be the first to admit I had no idea who Alfredo Marte in April when I traveled to Chattanooga to see Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer on back-to-back evenings. At one point, I turned to a friend in attendance and said, “That Marte guy is going to be a fourth outfielder for somebody.” Without a doubt, Marte had a fine season at the Double-A level. But at 23, he was also a little older than most legit prospects who pass through. He’s a big leaguer, but his role is still to be determined.
9. Jaff Decker, San Diego Padres
When prospect followers point to walk rate at the lower levels as a sign of prospect “awesomeness”, I find myself wanting to serve a heaping portion of Jaff Decker. While he continues to post eye popping on base percentages, talk of limitations in other areas seems to be catching up to him. Now 22 and coming off of a season lost to injury, I have no choice but to move him down this list.
10. Ariel Ovando, Houston Astros
Ovando was a bohemoth in person with room to fill out his frame. At present, he has holes in his swing and is a defensive liability. At 18, it doesn’t much matter because he’s far ahead of other young, Latin players I’ve seen. Ovando is ranked 10th on this list due to his having the floor of a Single-A wash out, but his power ceiling is also as high as anybody ranked. A less conservative prospect writer would have Ovando ranked much higher.
11. James Darnell, San Diego Padres
At 26, time is running out for James Darnell. Like Decker, his season was cut short due to injury at a time when he seemed ready to break through for good. The University of South Carolina product is a big leaguer, but will open 2013 at an age (26) when a five-to-six year career as a bench player is a great outcome. I like the power potential and ability to draw a walk, but “old player skills” point to a decent floor without a ton of upward mobility.
12. Williams Jerez, Boston Red Sox (CF)
This rank is 99.9% projection and 0.1% production. At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds with the classic left-handed stroke, Darryl Strawberry was the first name that popped into my head when watching Jerez in batting practice. Of course physical resemblance means little until the on field production is there to match. Still, I would welcome Jerez into my organization with open arms on the chance things come together even though they probably never will.
13. Marc Krauss, Houston Astros
After a 2011 look in Chattanooga, I was convinced Marc Krauss was a prospect dud. He was slow, presented with a ton of swing-and-miss, and the power was less than I was expecting. There was nothing to like. A second look in 2012 featured Krauss raking Double-A pitching with a much improved approach and shorter path to the baseball. I still can’t shake the memories of 2011 Krauss, but he now profiles as a big leaguer for me instead of a quality organizational piece.
14. Kentrail Davis, Milwaukee Brewers
I really want to like Kentrail Davis as a prospect, but his all-around game includes just as many negatives as positives. He has speed, but his body type leaves him unlikely to maintain it. Davis walks at a strong clip, but strikes out too much. His offensive game is well-balanced… for a center fielder. Davis is an outfielder with a “tweener” profile and “extra guy” projection at this point.
15. Fred Ford, Kansas City Royals
My look at Ford was brief, but he has impressive size and power potential. The strikeouts are a major red flag, but I’d take a shot on him just to see how he develops. In 2013, I’ll receive ample opportunity to follow up on Ford as he’s likely to be Lexington bound.
16. Gilbert Gomez, New York Mets (CF)
On a bad Savannah team, Gomez stuck out as a legitimate big league prospect. Once again, it’s a fourth outfielder profile, but his advanced approach and wiry frame allows for some projection. My issue with Gomez is that he’s slow and will have to move to a corner outfield spot at physical maturity, if not sooner.
17. Kendrick Perkins, Boston Red Sox
Seeing Perkins’ 35.5% strikeout rate in the New York-Penn League took me by surprise as he barreled the baseball as well as any prospect on his team when watching Lowell play in Auburn. At present, he’s a bad body prospect who would benefit by dropping 20 pounds or so. Perkins will always have to work hard to maintain his frame, but I’ve seen prospects transform physicall in a single off-season. I hope to see the same from Perkins if he’s assigned to Greenville next spring.
18. Jordan Akins, Texas Rangers
Akins has top-3 tools on this list without question, but how does a prospect rectify a 162/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio? Is that even possible? If I can’t picture a true path to the big leagues, which I can’t, then I have no choice but to rank Akins last. Unless he gives up baseball for the gridiron which is a distinct possibility, he’ll be given many years to figure it out at the minor league level. I’m just doubtful he ever will.